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By Nancy Hahn

Researching this article, the day was 70 degrees. The next, it was snowing.

Imagine how this feels if you’re homeless. Wandering websites, I read a short article on The Homeless Shelter Directory’s news section thanking McDonald’s for providing its dollar menu. In their survey of ways to survive with little or no money, local food pantries were named, but the number one answer by those surveyed was that McDonald’s dollar menu feeds them daily.

Next time I see someone with a cup or hat out on a corner, I’ll understand the difference a dollar can make.

Getting off a bus on Colfax in Lakewood, I discovered one issue facing the homeless. I went into a little restaurant to use the restroom. It was locked and had a keypad. You could only get the code with purchase and there was a long line. Four restaurants in a row were the same.

Later, talking with a homeless woman, she explained finding a bathroom is difficult.

“You can walk to Walmart or ARC,” she said, “or go behind a dumpster in an alley.”

How many things do the homeless confront daily that I never considered?

The homeless have been in the news lately. On Oct. 29, the largest homeless sweep since 2016 was conducted in Denver. About 100 homeless men and women had camped near Park Avenue and Lawrence Street. Denver Police Department officers, Public Works employees, and city dump trucks engaged in a large-scale sweep — or cleanup operation. Many homeless people had tents and sleeping bags thrown away. City workers explained that human waste, animal waste, needles, rats, and trash made the area unsafe.

The tiny home village, created for the homeless, was in the news, also. The homes must move from 38th and Blake. The Beloved Community Village of formerly homeless individuals needs a new location for the tiny homes. A developer offered a plot of land, but the land is on a floodplain and deemed unsafe. The city is searching for other locations, since the permit for the current location expires in January.

Food and Shelter is Available

Jeffco Eats is a nonprofit serving Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Edgewater and Arvada to ensure that hungry or homeless families don’t go hungry on the weekends. Jeffco students whose families have been identified as needing support take home backpacks of healthy foods every Friday. Food Bank of the Rockies, the Jefferson County Colorado Department of Education, Title One, and Homeless area directors work together to support homeless families.

There are many shelters and services throughout Jefferson County. Family Tree at 3805 Marshall St. in Wheat Ridge offers a variety of services. Family Tree’s Roots of Courage supports domestic abuse victims. Houses of Hope offers emergency residential services. There are other homeless programs, as well as, Safe Care Programs to support families. Shannon’s Hope offers a residential community for pregnant women without homes. Shannon’s provides a caring home for clients. They, also, help clients access community services and plan their future.

The Denver Rescue Mission has a growing number of shelter facilities and is constantly improving its work with the homeless. Its shelters are designed with great thoughtfulness and understanding about what homeless people need. The shelters for families have facilities for children and youth development activities. Some shelters provide meals. They also help parents with job or educational training, even getting a GED. Several shelters for individuals provide lockers, which are important because many homeless have jobs and can’t take their bundle of belongings to work. Having a safe place to leave their belongings makes them feel more established. While they may not have a home, they have a home base.

The Salvation Army, also, offers shelters. They provide blankets and snacks to area homeless, who choose not to stay in a shelter. The Salvation Army focuses on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, also. With seven locations within eight miles of Wheat Ridge, many services are within reach. The Lambuth Family Center, for example, at 2741 N. Federal Boulevard, has transitional housing for families, domestic violence services, a Boys and Girls Club, casework services, and food and nutrition classes. Their many shelters provide emergency housing, transitional housing, and other support.

Why Are People Sleeping Outside?

There are shelters for women and children, family shelters, shelters that provide meals, and those that provide employment services. So why are homeless people sleeping under bridges, camping along Clear Creek, and huddled in RTD bus shelters throughout the winter?

The homeless have their individual reasons for avoiding shelters. Some homeless people have dogs. A dog is protection, especially for younger homeless people or for women. A dog persuades passers-by to talk and give a dollar or two. A dog is a friend when the world isn’t friendly. Shelters don’t accept dogs. Some shelters have rules about when to be in line. The line can be long and exposed to the weather. Some shelters require counseling. One homeless man, Jack, explained that he has his spot outside. Sheltered from wind and weather; it is familiar, known. While not comfortable to anyone else, it feels safer than a shelter full of unknown problems.

Shelters come in all varieties. Shelters without entry restrictions with simply one big room with cots can have every problem imaginable. Crowding brings problems when some people are sick, haven’t bathed in a while, and not everyone is honest. Fights can happen. Some do have bugs, including lice. Some people do find their shoes were stolen. But better shelters are being created. Some shelters, including the faith-based shelters, offer counseling and support finding a path out of homelessness.

Finding paths out of homelessness is important. The long-term solution, though, must be creating programs preventing struggling individuals and the working poor from crossing that line into homelessness.